There are quite a few music archives around. Alas, it seems as if the thought of how to maneuver them got a bit neglected. Since music firstly wants to get heard, and only then possibly get categorized or explained, the solution to this is easy: Make the archive speak!
In a way, the sonic archeology pursued by Sounds Central is related to that of European medieval cartographers. Their mappae mundi weren’t striving to exactly depict the world, but rather intended to broach issues they found fascinating, e.g. Bible stories, mythology, or certain knowledge. Being a DJ, my way of addressing musical phenomena is the mix.
The Mix as Interface
Besides providing sonic environments, Sounds Central introduces a new sort of user interface. In a future version of the archive, many tracks in its thematic mixes will serve as optional gateways – to get to know more about their context, artistic concepts, or related music. Users will be able to leave a mix and maneuver the archive in their own unique ways – based on context related suggestions, with no AI involved.
Contrary to the processing speed, storage capacity and user interfaces of computers, most music related AI is still in its infancy – more than 50 years after synthesizer pioneer Suzanne Ciani took a summer course at Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL) with the father of computer music Max Mathews. Apparently, AI is not yet able to satisfactory mimic qualities like intuition, humour and personality, which are crucial for the making, understanding and presentation of interesting music.
Since starting my digital archive at the dawn of the terabyte era in 2012, I evaluated over 200k tracks by asking the simple question whether I’d like to listen to them again.* The remaining ones are organized in an abundance of playlists thus mapping many of my thoughts about music. Based on almost 40 years of listening experience, these playlists are at the core of Sounds Central.
A lot of the featured tracks in the avantgarde section capture remarkable moments I came across during an extensive search for radiophonic miniatures. With the ongoing series Fundstück (relic), results of this research (which includes the complete Ubuweb sound section) are broadcasted in the cultural magazine Kompressor on Deutschlandfunk-Kultur since 2015. The episodes tell stories, take listeners on acoustic journeys, or document situations. They’re presenting works of sound art, field recordings, animal music, poetry, or something else.
NB: The music featured in Sounds Central usually makes its way into the archive as direct transfer from CD, by getting ripped from vinyl or cassette in 24bit/48KHz resolution, or as online AIFF/WAV purchase. After arranging a mix in Pro Tools, a FLAC file in CD quality is uploaded to Mixcloud.
* Only in 2021, I learned that I’m suffering from misophonia, a disorder that typically begins in childhood and that’s characterized by extremely painful reactions towards certain sounds. Obviously, persons concerned aim at avoiding trigger sounds.
On the other end of the scale, at least for me, there are many sounds that keep my ears entertained, e.g. when in natural environments. Since some music falls into this category as well, I guess that’s why liking music is my first criteria for keeping it. Approaching sound intellectually doesn’t work for me.
I’ll be back with a detailed text about misophonia and its implications for my approach of selecting music.
Paul Paulun, April 2020 (updated 11/21)
Paul Paulun will contribute to Reina Sofía’s radio station RRS in 2023. The museum of contemporary and 20th-century art in Madrid has reorganized its permanent collection with the aim of offering narratives and experiences from feminist, decolonial and ecological viewpoints.
Sounds Central will showcase a set at Meakusma Festival in Eupen (Belgium) in September 2022
freshly launched in February 2022, Belgian radio station Studio Néau will broadcast a selection of mixes from Sounds Central
from September until December 2021, Sounds Central is supported with a research grant for curatorial development in the visual arts by Berlin’s Senate Department for Culture and Europe
Better than algorithms. DJ and radio journalist Paul Paulun compiles handpicked experimental music collections. Read the article (February 2021)
Paul Paulun about sonic archeology, which sort of sound art works for the series, and the connection between such relics (Fundstücke) and his speaking archive Sounds Central
from November 2020 until April 2021, Sounds Central is supported with a grant from Musikfonds e.V.
introducing the speaking archive at Leipzig’s Seanaps Festival in October 2020 (talk with Tina Klatte and Maximilian Glass)